What Causes Itchy Bumps on Your Elbows?

There are many conditions that can cause itchy bumps on your elbow, ranging from allergies and inflammatory arthritis to immune-related skin conditions. Knowing the difference can ensure you get the right treatment.

This article explores five common causes of itchy bumps on your elbow—psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis, dermatitis herpetiformis, and gout—including how each is treated and who is most likely to be affected.

An illustration with remedies for itchy bumps on elbows

Verywell / Josh Seong


Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes raised areas of dry, itchy, scaly skin. It is non-contagious but can cause unsightly and even painful lesions covering large parts of the body in some people.

Plaque psoriasis, the most common form of the disease accounting for over 80% of cases, accelerates the normal turnover of skin cells. Rather than being shed gradually, skin cells start to pile up on the surface, causing silvery-white, scaly lesions known as plaques. The elbows are commonly affected, along with the knees, scalp, and back.

Another type of psoriasis that can affect the elbows is guttate psoriasis. It is most commonly triggered by a streptococcal infection, such as strep throat, and accounts for roughly 8% of all cases. Symptoms include round, scaly, droplet-like skin lesions that are typically itchy.


The treatment of psoriasis depends on the specific type you have and the severity of your symptoms. The aim is to temper the overreactive immune response and relieve acute symptoms.

Treatment options include:

  • Emollient moisturizers
  • Topical steroids like Trianex (triamcinolone)
  • Salicylic acid shampoos
  • Coal tar shampoos, creams, or oils
  • Topical vitamin D analogs like Dovonex (calcipotriene)
  • Topical retinoids like Tazorac (tazarotene)
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors like Protopic (tacrolimus)
  • Phototherapy
  • Oral immunosuppressants like Trexall (methotrexate)
  • Oral retinoids like Soriatan (acitretin)
  • Injected steroids like triamcinolone
  • Injected biologics like Otezla (apremilast)

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic, non-contagious inflammatory skin condition that causes itchy, red, swollen skin.

The cause of eczema is unknown, but it is thought to be an immune-mediated disorder in which the immune system provokes an inappropriate inflammatory response. This often occurs in reaction to environmental triggers (like detergents or changes in climate) or even emotional triggers, such as stress.

Eczema compromises the barrier function of the skin, causing splotchy, cracked skin that can itch intensely. The elbows and knees are commonly affected, as well as the face, neck, arms, and legs.

Around 20% of people will have eczema at some point in their life. Children are most commonly affected, including infants. Over 15 million adults and children in the United States are thought to be affected by eczema.


The treatment of eczema is focused on relieving dry, cracked, itchy skin and tempering the inappropriate immune response.

Common treatments for eczema include:

  • Emollient moisturizers
  • Cold compresses
  • Oatmeal baths
  • Room humidifiers
  • Anti-itch creams
  • Topical steroids
  • Phototherapy
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors
  • Oral steroids like prednisone
  • Injected biologics like Dupixent (dupilumab)

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a chronic, non-contagious skin condition caused by direct contact with an irritant or an allergy-causing substance (allergen).

Symptoms can include itching, dryness, bumps, rash, blisters, or swelling. Contact dermatitis can occur on any part of the body, including the elbows.

There are two broad categories of contact dermatitis:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a reaction to substances that provoke a specific immune reaction involving an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Common allergens include preservatives, fragrances, cosmetics, certain metals, and poison ivy or oak. The rash can appear minutes to days after exposure.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis: This is an abnormal immune reaction that does not involve IgE. Common skin irritants include cleansers, detergents, and soaps. Symptoms include swollen, itchy, burning, or flaky bumps on the elbows.

Allergic contact dermatitis is quite common, affecting one in five people at some point in their life. People with childhood eczema are more likely to be affected.

Irritant contact dermatitis is slightly less common, affecting one in every 10 people.


The treatment of contact dermatitis can vary based on whether the symptoms are triggered by an allergen or an irritant. The main approach is the avoidance of known triggers.

Other treatment options for contact dermatitis include:

  • Anti-itch creams
  • Calamine lotion
  • Low-dose topical steroids
  • Oral antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Zinc oxide cream

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a non-contagious autoimmune condition that causes the outbreak of an itchy, blistering rash after eating gluten. It is one of the possible symptoms of celiac disease and is sometimes referred to as a gluten rash or celiac rash.

"Herpetiformis" refers to the rash's blistering, herpes-like appearance (although it is caused by immune dysfunction, not a herpes virus).

The fluid-filled blisters are most commonly seen on the elbows, buttocks, scalp, knees, back, hairline, groin, face, and back of the neck. These symptoms tend to occur with other common symptoms of celiac disease, including abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, weight loss, and fatigue.

Although anyone with celiac disease can be affected by dermatitis herpetiformis, it most commonly develops after age 30 or 40. Males are slightly more affected than females.


The treatment for dermatitis herpetiformis starts with the avoidance of gluten as well as life-long adherence to a gluten-free diet.

Other treatments are focused on relieving the rash and the intense itchiness. These include oral antibacterial, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory drugs like:

  • Aczone (dapsone)
  • Colcrys (colchicine)
  • Nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B3)
  • Tetracycline
  • Tetralysal 300 (lymecycline)
  • Sulfamethoxypyridazine
  • Sulfapyridine

Aczone is usually considered the first-line drug option. A mild topical steroid like hydrocortisone may also be used with Aczone and a gluten-free diet to relieve itchiness.


Arthritis is a chronic condition affecting the joints. There are several types that can cause swelling and pain in the elbows—including osteoarthritis ("wear-and-tear arthritis") and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune form of the disease). But only one can cause itchy bumps on elbows.

Gout, also known as gouty arthritis, is an inflammatory form of arthritis that causes severe attacks of pain and swelling of the fingers, wrists, and elbows.

Gout is caused by the build-up of uric acid in the body which crystallizes in joint spaces. At times, crystals can form beneath the skin, causing hardened bumps known as tophi. In severe cases, whitish or yellowing crystals can form on the surface of the skin.

Tophi are usually painless but can be irritating and itchy, particularly on the elbows and fingers.

Around 4% of people have gout, predominantly adults. Males are more vulnerable than females and typically develop symptoms in their 30s and 40s. Females are more likely to do so after menopause.


Gout treatment is focused on relieving acute symptoms and tempering the underlying causes of inflammation and uric acid accumulation.

Treatment options for gout include:

  • Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen)
  • A reduction in purine-rich foods that give rise to uric acid
  • Oral steroids like prednisone
  • Oral vitamin D analogs like Colcrys (colchicine)
  • Oral uric acid reducers like Aloprim (allopurinol)
  • Injected biologics like Krystexxa (pegloticase)

A Word From Verywell

Itchy bumps on elbows can be aggravating. The good news is there is relief. Depending on your condition and the severity of your symptoms, there are over-the-counter and prescription drugs that can help, as well as specialist procedures like phototherapy.

If over-the-counter or home therapies fail to provide relief, contact a healthcare provider. They can take steps to diagnose the cause of your symptoms and offer a treatment plan to bring your symptoms under control.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is psoriasis diagnosed?

    A healthcare provider will examine your skin, scalp, and nails. They will also ask questions regarding symptoms, any relatives who have psoriasis, joint problems, or any recent lifestyle changes. A skin culture may also be done.

  • What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?

    Eczema can, but doesn't always, cause scaly leathery patches of skin. This and other symptoms mean it can mimic psoriasis. But psoriasis scales tend to be thicker with more well-defined edges.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Clarindo MV, Possebon AT, Soligo EM, Uyeda H, Ruaro RT, Empinotti JC. Dermatitis herpetiformis: pathophysiology, clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment. An Bras Dermatol. 2014;89(6):865-75. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142966

  7. American College of Rheumatology. Gout.

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By Yvelette Stines
Yvelette Stines, MS, MEd, is an author, writer, and communications specialist specializing in health and wellness.